Former dancer finds a new challenge in wheelchair rugby

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by STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on March 10, 2012 at 12:02 AM

IRVING - It doesn't look like rugby - there are no scrums, no drop kicks and no running.

This is wheelchair rugby. And it's not for the meek.

The players are paraplegic or quadriplegic with some use of their arms, but that doesn't mean they're not big hitters.

The idea is to wheel across the goal line while carrying the ball. Players can not touch each other. However, they are allowed to use their wheelchairs to block. And that usually means some big chair-to-chair blows.

Traci Bryan found her new passion. She joined the North Texas Cowboys, a wheelchair rugby team that trains in Irving.

A few years ago, this was out of the question.

"I went from, like I said, in perfect condition, 135 pounds down to 90 pounds, in the hospital," Bryan said. "I mean, it took years for me to build strength up."

Traci Bryan was a dancer. Her life changed in 1997, her second year at Navarro College.

She was heading home with friends when the car crash happened. A friend sitting in the backseat wasn't wearing a seat belt.

"He flew into me," Bryan said. "And that's what broke my neck. And then the car flipped."

Bryan's road to recovery and a sense of normalcy in her life was tedious and often frustrating.

But she stayed positive. She and her mother opened a boutique in Rowlett. However, Traci said even though she enjoyed managing the business, something was still missing.

Then she met a fellow quadriplegic, who asked her if she had heard of wheelchair rugby.

"The thought of it was just awesome," Bryan said. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I can play sports again.'"

Traci joined the Cowboys, becoming the only woman player on the team.

"It's so inspiring," Bryan said. "And it's so neat to be able to hang out with people who are like me, that have the same type of issues that I face on a daily basis. They face it too."

Teammates say it's Traci who's inspiring them.

"She has always got a smile on her face," said teammate Shane Crider. "So anytime you see her, you can't help but smile yourself."

Traci holds on to hope that one day, she will park her wheelchair and walk again. But she says until that day comes, she will have a ball playing ball, just as she is.

"Things really do start to get better, as long as you don't give up, as long as you keep fighting for what you want and working toward a goal," Bryan said. "Things will continue to improve."

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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